We all know what a book is. We know what short stories are. But what elements make good fiction writing and how can you try your hand at it?
Here’s my breakdown of what fiction writing is and how anyone can become a fiction writer, even if they’ve never created a story before.
What Is Fiction Writing?
Fiction is a narrative form. It’s the craft of making characters who experience a plot line that’s entirely untrue.
Sometimes fiction stories are based on real events or people, but they won’t use the same names or exactly the same details. Most of your work should come from the creative side of your brain and address the theme or message you want to convey.
What Are the Six Types of Fiction?
There are six essential types of fiction that divide stories into genres (and subgenres):
- Literary Fiction
- Science Fiction
- Historical Fiction
- Mystery Fiction
- Children’s Fiction
Each genre serves a different purpose. You might pick up a literary fiction novel if you want to read “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini or “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt. They typically take place in the modern world and center around real-world problems.
You’d read historical fiction to go back in time and read about challenges that could have occurred more than 100 years ago. Picture the “Bridgerton” or “Outlander” series. Their stories would be radically different if they happened in 2023. It would affect the structure of their societies, how the characters interact with each other, and the boundaries containing them.
Sometimes it’s easier to start writing by picking your intended genre. Sometimes you might have a story idea just come to you. Both forms of inspiration are valid!
Tips to Start Writing Fiction
Anyone can pick up fiction writing and feel confident about their first story with a few helpful tips like these.
1. Define Your Protagonist
Your protagonist is your main character. The lessons they learn or the fate they experience is most important to the plot.
Every protagonist needs three essential elements to make a story work:
- A Goal (What do they want at the start of or by the end of the story?)
- A Challenge (What makes the plot start moving toward their goal?)
- Personal Growth (Who are they at the start of the story and how will they change by the end?)
Don’t get overwhelmed! Let’s break these down into a simple example.
Let’s say I want to write a story about a guy who goes to the grocery store. When he leaves his apartment, he’s grumpy, lonely, and focused on getting through the day. When he’s at the store, he reconnects with a childhood best friend who reminds him about the joys in life. In the end, he returns home feeling more positive and ready to continue that lost friendship.
Using our outline above, his essential elements would look like this:
- A Goal: Get his groceries and go home to sleep.
- A Challenge: He has to face an old friend and grapple with the mixed emotions of reconnecting.
- Personal Growth: He returns home with a different, more positive life perspective because what he was missing in life was a good friend.
You may not have all three elements right away and that’s totally fine.
Have fun creating your character’s name, look, and general persona if you don’t have any other information on them at this point. (And you can use my giant list of free writing resources to bring your character to life!)
2. Pick Three Plot Points
Your protagonist won’t experience their character development without a plot. Here’s a very basic plot map that might help you visualize your story’s arc:
Here’s what our diagram would look like for my example story:
This map doesn’t include every step of the story, like what the protagonist thinks about while driving to the store or going home, but some writers never fill those in. You don’t have to if you don’t want to.
Having the most basic story points outlined is the most important part of writing your first story. You’ll know where it starts, where the story changes, and where it ends.
3. Choose Your Setting
Where your story takes place is crucial. It may specify events that your protagonist experiences that they couldn’t experience if they weren’t in that place or time.
In our example story, the place is the protagonist’s hometown, as well as the grocery store.
The time would be the present day.
In a longer story, the place will change as the protagonists changes settings. The time could even change if you’re writing about a time traveler or include a significant time jump in your plot.
4. Decide on Your Theme
Picking a theme for your story may help you avoid writer’s block.
Your theme is your story’s purpose.
Our example story could have a few different purposes, depending on what the writer wants to communicate to their reader.
This story could focus on the theme of overcoming loneliness. It could communicate a lesson about the importance of friendship. It could also be about regaining control of your life when it’s come to a point you don’t enjoy.
Figuring out your theme before writing your story definitely helps while you’re plotting or writing. However, you may not be able to identify your theme until you’ve started or finished the story. It depends on your inspiration and how concrete the story is when you think of it.
If you want a deeper dive into choosing a theme, I wrote way more about it on my initial blog (and will add that post to this site in the future).
5. Create Your Antagonist
Antagonists are key to every story.
They’re the person, place, thing, idea, or feeling that initiates or continues your conflict.
Our example story’s antagonist would be the protagonist’s overwhelming loneliness. It sets the scene for the protagonist’s growth when they reignite a positive friendship.
A traditional antagonist could also be called the villain. They fight against the hero on their quest to the plot’s resolution.
Antagonists are also settings. It might be a hurricane that shipwrecks the main characters or a snowstorm that traps someone in a rural cabin.
You can develop the antagonist with the same three points as the protagonist if they’re a person. They should also have their own identity, goal, and some kind of growth. They don’t need to always experience redemption, but they should have some sort of personal change by the story’s end.
If you’re interested in learning more, you can read about developing an antagonist over at Now Novel.
6. Avoid Setting Expectations
Now that you have the main ingredients of your story ready to go, you may feel a bit intimidated, nervous, or scared.
Those feelings often happen when we set expectations for ourselves.
You don’t have to write a perfect first draft. Ever.
You don’t need to write something that breaks records, impresses millions, or wins every contest you ever enter.
Writing is about experiencing the joy of creating worlds and writing about what matters to you. Having fun is the only expectation you should set for yourself.
7. Start Your First Draft
You’re all set! Start writing your first draft however you prefer. Try writing in a notebook with pens or pencils. Try writing with markers, coloring pencils, crayons, or gel pens.
You might enjoy typing your stories on your computer. Maybe you’ll write best speaking into your phone while it translates your voice to text.
Try different resources to see what best fits your creative mind at this point in your journey. The way you write will likely go through phases. Give yourself the freedom to switch things up and writing will be so much less stressful.
8. Write for Yourself
Writing for yourself is my last tip for anyone who wants to try fiction writing. There’s plenty of pressure to write for the people who will read the copies you print, post, or publish. If that’s your full-time job, fine.
But if it isn’t, you’re doing this for you.
Write the stories that you enjoy.
Create characters you want to spend time with.
Develop worlds that call to you.
You’ll look forward to your writing time more and have a lot less pressure that could otherwise lead to writer’s block.
Explore the World of Fiction Writing
Now that you know what fiction writing is, try it out for yourself. Come up with a story idea and plan it with these tips. You’ll have a rough outline that feels ready to go and a story that comes naturally to mind.
Don’t forget, I have tons of free resources available to help you brainstorm!